State Task Force Endorses Ending Bail For Most Non-Violent Offenses

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore appointed the New York State Justice Task Force, which proposed ending cash bail for misdemeanors and most non-violent felonies except in certain circumstances.  Eagle  file photo by Rob Abruzzese.

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore appointed the New York State Justice Task Force, which proposed ending cash bail for misdemeanors and most non-violent felonies except in certain circumstances. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese.

By David Brand

A state task force appointed by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has proposed significant bail reforms for the New York court system and added more detail to its previous recommendation to release defendants with misdemeanor or various nonviolent felony charges without imposing bail.

In a report released Monday afternoon, the New York State Justice Task Force outlined the nonviolent felony charges that should not be included in the presumption of release without bail and the “aggravating circumstances” that could lead to the imposition of bail. The recommendations build on the task force’s March 2018 proposal to end cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felony felony charges in most circumstances.

“These defendants should be released either on their own recognizance or with the least restrictive non-monetary conditions necessary to ensure they appear in court as required,” the Task Force wrote.

The presumption of release without bail would not apply to defendants who face a life sentence or who are charged with a nonviolent Class B felony that carries a mandatory state prison term, such as first-degree grand larceny and sex trafficking. That provision excludes Class B drug offenses, however.

The report also outlines specific “aggravating factors” that could lead to the imposition of bail.

The presumption of release does not apply if the court determines there is a “significant risk” that the defendant will not return to court or if the court determines that the defendant poses a “credible threat” to the physical safety of an individual or group.

In the case of a flight risk, the task force suggests the court set the “least restrictive conditions necessary” to ensure the defendant returns to court. The court must provide a rationale for rebutting release.

DiFiore praised the work of the Task Force, which began studying release policies and bail reform efforts across the U.S. in June 2017. The Task Force was first formed in 2009 by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

“Today’s report follows hours and hours of careful examination by the Task Force — and input from all sectors of New York’s criminal justice system — on how to implement systemic, meaningful reform of our state’s bail system while ensuring the safety of all New Yorkers,” DiFiore said in a statement. “The recommendations highlighted in this report offer a thoughtful, common-sense path to bail reform in New York.”

Former Administrative Judge of New York City Criminal Court Barry Kamins, an attorney at Aidala Bertuna & Kamins and a permanent member of the Task Force, said the 21-month study “represents a collaborative effort to achieve sensible bail reform that balances the rights of defendants with public safety.”

In addition to the specific bail reform proposals, the task force issued six other general recommendations:

The task force encourages the state to increase training and education for attorneys and judges, expand the use of supervised release and other pretrial services, improve data collection and reporting, study risk assessment tools and consider the unintended consequences of the use of $1 bail.

In a statement, the Task Force said its 24 members achieved “near-unanimous consensus” on most of the report’s recommendations.